what is the perfect volume? part 3

Over part 1 & part 2 of “what is the perfect volume?”, we have talked about knowing what you are trying to achieve in your services and how volume plays into that, and we have talked about the appropriate volume for each part of your service.  In this post we’ll be talking about being responsible with the volume.

4933225386_a52282b247_bHow many of you have found that guy who has brought their own dB meter to church? You know, to check the volume?  With multiple venues going on at the same time, we’ve had a gentleman who would travel from room to room with his Radio Shack dB meter checking up on the levels all around the building.

I had several conversations with this person, as well as receiving many emails from people accusing us of doing permanent damage to people’s hearing.

I know that it can be really easy to dismiss someone that is so insistent and frankly obnoxious about how wrong you are and how right he is.  And while our knee jerk reaction can be to ignore these people, or at the least wish they would go away, we need to be able to address their concerns.

Given that my last posts have been about knowing what you and your team believe about volume and being volume appropriate in each part of the service, these answers aren’t sufficient for someone who is adamant that you are doing actual damage to the ears of the people in the congregation.

This is where the subjectivity of volume goes away and where science kicks in.   Measuring the volume in real time, and keeping track of the volume over a period of time become critical to objectively understanding the volume in your space.

Real Time Measurement

Measuring the decibels in real time helps in the moment, letting you know if it is getting too loud.  We have several places that this number shows up, and as the one who answers for the volume levels at my church, I have a good sense that many times 97dB is a little too loud for the first song (back to the idea of the appropriate volume for the appropriate time).  Being able to see this number, helps me to react in the moment to what the empirical data is telling me about the volume at the moment.

This also helps when a producer or pastor has a question in a particular moment about how loud is it and it is important to know in that exact moment where things are.  It’s not about my opinion at that point, but something exact and measurable.  Again, something might be too loud from a what’s-appropriate-to-the-moment standpoint, but having a number to measure this opinion against is a huge benefit.

Maybe more important than knowing in an instant, is keeping track over time.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has set some standards for safety in the workplace, which includes volume levels that have proven over time to be safe for workers.

While OSHA standards don’t apply to the people in your congregation, at the very least they apply to church staff, who are exposed to the same volume over time. As a result, the OSHA standards are a great metric for how loud it can be for how long before permanent damage is done to people’s ears.

As an example, OSHA PNE (Permissible Noise Exposure) specifies a legal limit of 95 dBA (slow) continuously for 4 hours to avoid hearing loss.  Similarly, 80 dB for 32 hours and 100dB for 2 hours.

Now, as I see it, there are 2 challenges with trying to keep track of every service’s volume levels.  The first is how to actually record dB levels over time and the other is the administrative part of having to keep track of it.

To overcome these 2 issues, we have started using TREND, a combination of hardware and software that allows us to set up recording times and then it automatically documents each service on a spreadsheet.  The data is collected in an easy to understand format as well.

Since we really only care about how loud the worship part of the service is, it will take the average of all things that are over the OSHA threshold of 80 dB.  This gives us a more accurate idea of how loud the loud stuff is over time.

I’m going to brag a little bit right here…Chris Gille, the CTO at Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim, CA has done some amazing work at making this program perfect for what churches need.  Using TREND has really helped us to keep track of how loud our services around the campus are running, without having to do all the administrative work necessary.

Having a record of each service is a great resource to point people to.  For those that think your services are too loud and doing damage to people’s ears, this not only helps them see that you take volume seriously, but it also shows that your services have been well within the limits of potential hearing damage for weeks and months.

On a more serious note, having a record of every service is an excellent way to protect your church legally.  There have been some instances where churches were taken to court over noise concerns, and chances are it won’t happen to your church, but wouldn’t you rather have a record of each service to be safe?

Having a way to measure how loud it is, matters.  While much of the volume conversation can be subjective, there is a good bit of it that is objective.  Let’s do the work necessary to take care of the objective part by measuring and keeping track of how loud it really is.

Special note: Thanks to Chris Gille for correcting much of the technical aspects of this blog post.

Another special note: Chris had nothing to do with me plugging TREND. It is just that good!


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